All over the tech sphere, you'll hear the terms "cloud computing" and "the cloud." Marketing companies have seized these terms and turned them into buzzwords almost devoid of meaning.
Let's clear up what "the cloud" actually means and how it affects modern computing. Don't worry -- it's not as complex as it might seem.
Defining "The Cloud"
As a simple definition, take cloud to mean computer services that are moved outside local machines to somewhere else on the internet. When you work with cloud services, your own computer or company server isn't the one handling the work. Instead, another company's server does the heavy lifting and you access the interface by connecting to them through the internet.
This might sound abstract, so let's take a look at some real-world examples of cloud software vs. locally installed software.
Examples of Cloud Software
So when are you using services in the cloud? Some common uses include…
- Using Google Docs instead of Microsoft Office. Logging into Google Docs allows you to edit documents, spreadsheets, and more right in your web browser. When you do so, you're connecting to Google's servers, which power the software. Microsoft Office, conversely, is installed onto your computer and you can use it without connecting to any Microsoft servers.
- Storing files in a file synchronization app like Dropbox. When you use Dropbox to sync your files with your colleagues or across your own computers, the Dropbox app syncs a copy of your data to the Dropbox servers. This means that even if your computer stopped working tomorrow, you can log into Dropbox's website and download a copy of your files.
- Streaming music for the office through Pandora. Instead of storing music files on your own computer or server, you can stream music through Pandora, Spotify, and similar services. Thus, no music files actually reside on your computer when using them. Pandora's servers do all the work of storing and sorting music, and simply deliver them to you over the internet.
- Using Office 365 for email instead of local servers. When you use Office 365 for your company's email, Microsoft's servers handle all the work. With a local email solution, you must configure your own email server to handle messaging.
As a rule of thumb, remember that a cloud service replaces something you'd normally use on a local machine with an internet-based service.
Benefits of Cloud Computing
We've discussed some of the benefits of using the cloud in our examination of Webroot Antivirus. The biggest benefit of cloud services is that it greatly cuts down on the load for your local machines.
In the case of the cloud-based antivirus Webroot, it doesn't bog down your machine when scanning for infections. When using Office 365's email, you might not even need an onsite mail server, saving you physical space.
Further, cloud services are usually simple to use and already well-established. Many small businesses don't have the time or resources to research and implement their own local solutions for, say, CRM software. But they can adopt a cloud tool like Salesforce with a fraction of that work.
Another huge benefit of working in the cloud is the scalability. Most of these services are pay-as-you-go, meaning that you don't have to pay for more than you use. Thus, it's easy to add new employees, remove existing users, or redirect roles.
Of course, it's not all good news when working with cloud services. Security and privacy risks are two of the biggest drawbacks of cloud services. Since you're trusting your data to another company outside your own, there's concern of unauthorized access or even attack from a malicious source. For companies that store extremely sensitive data, keeping it in the cloud may simply not be an option.
Cloud services are also suspect to downtime. If a cloud provider has an outage, your business will be unable to work until they fix the problem. Most providers guarantee 99% uptime -- but eventually, something will happen and it won't be at a convenient time.
Finally, cloud services might have a lack of flexibility that you need. Some cloud providers use proprietary formats to lock you into their software, or don't offer options that you need. It's wise to look into these services to ensure they're reputable first.
Now You Know the Cloud
See, "the cloud" isn't so complicated after all. Distributed computing is a good synonym for "the cloud". Some other machine, somewhere, is handling the work, not yours. If you were working on a Microsoft Word document on your own PC and it crashed, you'd probably lose some work. But if one of the hundreds of severs powering Google Docs crashed when you were working in it, you wouldn't even notice it.
Cloud services have a lot of benefits for small business, but it's important to consider the potential issues too. If you'd like some assistance navigating the world of cloud software, why not get started with a free assessment today?